THE REDBIRD REVIEW
Simply put, it was the best homestand of the season for the Cardinals.
Returning to Busch Stadium after a 5-1 road trip to Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, the Redbirds took on two first-place teams and had no problem in going 5-2 against the Brewers and Dodgers.
Tack on their May 7 win over the Tigers, and the Cardinals have MLB’s best record (11-3) over their last 14 games. On May 6, the Cardinals slid to their lowest point of the season at 10-24 and were 10 games out of first place in the NL Central.
Get ready, ’cause here they come.
Here are the NL Central standings since the Cardinals came alive on May 7:
After a two-week run of playing winning baseball, the Cards cut their NL Central deficit in half and turned their season around. On May 6, FanGraphs gave the Cardinals a 12.6 percent chance to win the division. As of Monday morning, the Cardinals’ probability of winning the division is up to 32.1 percent. And their power move lifted the Cards from last place to third in the NL Central standings.
Here are 12 reasons why the sad deadbirds transformed themselves into the aggressive and successful angry birds over the last 14 games …
1. Peace in the Birdhouse: of course I’m referring to catcher Willson Contreras. He was pulled as the starting catcher for perceived game-planning and pitch-calling flaws, was transferred to DH, an uproar ensued and the St. Louis baseball bosses stood down. After nine games Contreras returned to catching, the team rallied around him, and the controversy pulled the Cardinals together. The fans backed Contreras and let him hear it with amplified cheering during the homestand. A potential disaster became a positive turning point. That certainly wasn’t the plan, but inspired Cardinal players used the episode for a crucial reset. Oh, and no one is criticizing Contreras’ catching these days. There wasn’t much to knock him for, anyway; the pitchers attempted to put the blame on Contreras to avoid responsibility for their shoddy work. Once the pitchers realized they couldn’t avoid accountability, they started to work with Contreras instead of working against him – and all is swell. The St. Louis pitching staff had a 3.00 ERA in the seven-game homestand.
2. The Rockets Red Glare Offense: The Cardinals averaged 7.2 runs per game, slugged .510, bashed 29 home runs, and slammed a homer every 16.6 at-bats. They clutched their way to a .361 average and 1.158 OPS with runners in scoring position – banging 13 homers in the process. You know your team is rolling when they launched a homer every 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
3. Improved Starting Pitching: Over the last 14 games Cards starting pitchers have a 3.58 ERA, which ranks 10th in the majors over that time.That’s quite an improvement over their 5.44 ERA over the first 34 games of the season. During the 5-2 homestand Redbirds starters pitched to a 2.32 ERA in 39 and ⅓ innings. A special mention goes to Mikolas; in his last seven starts the Cardinals are 5-2 and he’s pitched to a fine 2.90 ERA.
4. Nolan Arenado Goes on a Heater: Arenado struggled mightily during his first 32 games of the season, batting .242 with a .320 slugging percentage and only two home runs in 128 at-bats. But Arenado has been one of the team’s leading figures during the Cards’ 11-3 revival, batting .370 with a 1.156 OPS – and has six homers and 17 RBI in only 54 at-bats. The offense couldn’t really take off until Arenado found his swing. Once he did, his impact was immediate and substantial.
5. The Massive Power of Nolan Gorman: Emerging from a mini-slump that produced one homer in 12 games, Gorman began to flex on the day (May 9) before his birthday. Since then, over his last 10 games, Gorman has six homers and 16 RBI in 33 at-bats. This torrid stretch includes a monstrous .455 average, .539 onbase percentage and 1.091 slugging percentage. Entering the new week, Gorman leads the National League in OPS+, slugging, park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) and is second in RBI (39) and third in homers (13.) And he ranks among the top 10 NL hitters in batting average (.302) and onbase rate (.391.) And he’s even hitting bombs off lefty pitchers! One word: wow.
6. Infielder Invasion! When looking at them as a group, the Cardinals’ are mashing in May, leading all MLB infield sets in homers (19), RBI (50) slugging (.53) and OPS (.900.) For the entire season, the St. Louis infielders rank among the top six in the majors in batting average, homers, RBI, onbase percentage, slugging, OPS and park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) In May, the STL infielders are 45 percent above league average offensively. That’s tops in the majors. For the season, the Cardinal cluster of infielders is 29% above average offensively to rank 3rd among MLB infield groups. The list of primary producers includes Paul Goldschmidt, Arenado, Gorman, Paul DeJong, Tommy Edman and Brendan Donovan.
7. Paul DeJong Is Back: He’s the most pleasant surprise of the Cardinals season and a major contributor to the STL’s resurgent offense. During the team’s 11-3 stretch DeJong has five homers, 10 RBI, a .500 slugging percentage and .946 OPS. He had another big day against the Dodgers on Sunday, going 2 for 3 with a walk, homer, four RBI and four runs scored.
Since coming off the IL on April 23, DeJong has hit seven homers and batted .282 with a .590 slugging percentage and 159 OPS+ that puts him 59 percent above league average offensively. The offseason changes to his batting-stance and swings are working. And given the Cardinals’ early predicament, Pauly’s comeback is right on time.
DeJong has homered every 11 at-bats this season. He’s one of the team’s best “clutch” hitters with three homers, a .294 average, .882 slug and 1.216 in those situations. And among MLB shortstops that have at least 85 plate appearances this year, DeJong ranks No. 1 in slugging percentage, OPS, wRC+ and isolated power and is tied for third in homers. On defense DeJong is in the 84th percentile for Outs Above Average. For those worrying about an offensive collapse, I would say this: appreciate what he’s already done and how he helped pull the Cardinals out of the division basement. Since DeJong returned the Cardinals rank 2nd in the majors in runs, 5th in slugging and 6th in OPS. The Redbirds have gone 12-10 when DeJong starts at shortstop.
7. Manager Oli Marmol revved up the running game. Despite the new pitch-clock rules and the expanded-size bases, the passive Cardinals stole only 20 bases in their first 34 games. But in the last 14 games, the running Redbirds have 17 steals in 19 attempts. Big, big difference.
8. Effective reinforcements: the Cardinals made the call to Triple A Memphis to bring up lefty pitcher Matthew Liberatore and outfielder Oscar Mercado. Making his first start of the season, Liberatore pitched five scoreless innings to get the win in a 3-0 victory over the Brewers that clinched the series for the home team. Mercado, drafted by the Cardinals in the second round in 2013, returned to the organization after spending four seasons with Cleveland and making a brief stop in Philadelphia. Mercado was instant offense on the homestand, going 6 for 11 (.545), hitting two doubles, and driving home five runs in Sunday’s 10-5 romp over the Dodgers.
9. Lars Nootbaar: He’s slumping as of late, but that shouldn’t stain his overall performance on the season. Takes many walks. Gets on base at a high rate. Hits for power. Plays solid defense. His relentless style infuses the Cardinals with energy. Despite his time on the IL, Nootbaar ranks fourth on the Cardinals in WAR.
10. Paul Goldschmidt. Just because he’s Paul Goldschmidt.
11. Tommy Edman: We tend to overlook him a bit, right? In the 11-3 streak he’s hit .366 with a .357 OBP and .537 slug. Swiped three bases. Swatted four doubles and a homer. Scored nine runs. Made good plays at second base, shortstop and right field. He’s having a really good season; if he keeps it up, his current 125 OPS+ would be the best of his career.
12. Giovanny Gallegos: After two shaky relief appearances in early may including a brutal blown save against the Angels, Gallegos pulled it together and was superb after that, pitching 4.2 scoreless innings over five assignments. During the team’s 11-3 run Gallegos had a perfect ERA, allowed a .188 average and .410 OPS, and earned three saves plus a hold. Gio was steady at a time when a couple of key relievers (Genesis Cabrera, Ryan Helsley) had some rough moments.
Next up: a three-game series at Cincinnati, which begins on Monday night. The Cardinals are opening a 15-game stretch that has only two games at Busch Stadium.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Bill James Online and Baseball Prospectus.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.